Whale Sharks in Tanzania

A small population of whale sharks occurs off the west coast of Mafia Island, some 10-15km offshore from the central Tanzanian coast. The sharks are most commonly observed when feeding at the surface between the months of October and April. The population dynamics, seasonal movements and interactions of these whale sharks with others in the region are not well understood. The sharks are vulnerable to local fishing and tourism activities, both of which are likely to increase over time.

Educating Local Fishers

Sea Sense is working closely with local fishers in Mafia who interact with whale sharks during their daily fishing activities. Some fishers are known to use whale sharks to help locate schools of fish. This practice has led to a number of whale sharks becoming entangled in nets and being hit by boat propellers. Sea Sense has organised a number of education workshops for fishers to raise awareness of whale shark conservation and promote fishing practices that do not cause harm or distress to whale sharks.  

Whale Shark Tourism

A whale shark tourism industry is growing steadily in Mafia Island.  The whale sharks are commonly seen between October and April which coincides with the peak tourist season in Tanzania. Scientists and conservationists have been raising concerns for some time about the potential impact of tourism on whale shark populations.

Sea Sense has held two workshops for boat captains and crew employed in the whale shark tourism industry in Mafia Island which focused on improving knowledge and understanding of whale shark biology, ecology and conservation. Good-practice guidelines for whale shark viewing have been introduced to ensure whale shark excursions are safe, informative and avoid any disturbance to natural whale shark feeding behaviour. A 'Code of Conduct' for skippers and visitors has been agreed and Sea Sense is contributing to the development of a 'Whale Shark Briefing Pack' which will be distributed to all visitors that take part in whale shark excursions to ensure a more educational experience. A compliance survey is planned to monitor implementation of the Code of Conduct.

Whale shark education in schools

Sea Sense has implemented several whale shark education programmes using song, art and drama to convey simple messages about the importance of whale sharks in Mafia Island.  Students have also been taken to see the whale sharks themselves during World Environment Day celebrations.

Did you know?

Over a quarter of the Tanzanian population live in the coastal zone and rely solely on marine resources for their livelihoods.

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